At Virtus Nutrition our mission is to help you feed a better balance of fatty acids to improve reproduction, health and profitability. In the early 2000’s, we invented the process to deliver EPA/DHA in a form that dairy cows can utilize. Since then, we’ve developed several products, including Strata and EnerG-3, that give customers flexibility in how to deliver these essential fatty acids to their cows. Lost pregnancies are costly at every stage of pregnancy, and EPA/DHA is the pregnancy nutrient that resolves inflammation, supports healthy embryo development, and improves retention of pregnancy.

This episode is sponsored by Virtus Nutrition.

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Season 6, Episode 15

Here is the episode breakdown:

Tell me why reproductive efficiency may be more important today than ever? (Time: ~1:22)


Well, Reproductive efficiency has always been an important parameter for overall farm profitability.  Getting cows pregnant and keeping them pregnant has been and always will be necessary to optimize milk production by lowering days in milk and maximizing the number of days cows are in peak milk.  Plus reducing involuntary culls and lowering the cost to get cows pregnant. This is truer today as herds have adopted the use of beef semen on a % of the herd and are utilizing more sexed semen in heifers and first lactation animals to manage herd replacement numbers more economically.

In the early 2000’s PR averaged 16%, but now many herds have PR over 30% and think there is no advantage of getting better. Until recently herd replacements were plentiful and economical to purchase so getting a cow pregnant may not have been as important.  Today’s herds are not raising every heifer and are using beef semen on the lower end of the herd and sexed semen on the top genetics.  The beef-dairy crosses provide additional monthly income and sexed semen on the hers tops animals allows producers to accelerate their herds overall genetic gain, so you want to optimize every pregnancy.  With beef calves bringing $500 to $700 and herds replacements ranging from $2500 to $3000, every failed pregnancy is a lost opportunity cost.

The whole gestation period is important, but if you had to focus on one area what would it be? (Time: ~3:32)

Great question. We all know that management, lameness, and severe negative energy balance play a key role in the herds reproduction. Assuming they are in good order, I would have to say the 4 Pivotal periods in the first trimester would be the part of gestation I would focus on. These time points really set the stage for improving the herds reproduction.

Can you list the Four pivotal periods to us? (Time: ~4:07)

Research has shown that 80+ % of all eggs that get exposed to semen are fertilized, but by the time we reach our first vet check, we end up with conception rates below 50% and in some herds below 40%.   The first pivotal period occurs day 1 to 7 following fertilization which is the development of the blastocyst. The second Pivotal period is 8-27 days, and this is when embryo elongates and embryo implantation is initiated. Pivotal period 3 is from day 28 to 60 which is early fetal loss and the fourth pivotal period is fetal loss after 60 days.

Can you provide more detail into each period? (Time: ~5:11)

As I stated the first pivotal period occurs day 1 to 7 following fertilization and by day 5 and 6 the fertilized egg is a rapidly dividing ball known as a blastocyst.  Embryo loss during this period ranges 20-50%. The faster the embryo develops, and the more cells are generated per blastocysts a lower rate of loss is observed.

The second period is the elongation and implantation phase.  The length of the conceptus is directly correlated to the level of interferon tau synthesized by the fetus.  Interferon tau is often called the pregnancy hormone and as the embryo elongates more interferon tau is synthesized.  This reduces the prostaglandin spike that regresses the corpus luteum or CL and the level of prostaglandin in the endometrial tissue of the uterus. Both assist in maintaining the CL allowing embryo implantation. This period ranges from 25-41% loss.

Period 3 would be what we typically record as an abort. Cows that have been confirmed pregnant around 30-34 days and on recheck are open. The average value is 12%.

You stated that management practices, lameness, and severe negative balance can lower reproductive efficiency, but what can be done nutritionally to overcome some of these early embryo losses? (Time: ~6:57)

There is more and more data supporting the benefit of feeding the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA/DHA.  Several studies have reported a faster development rate of the embryo day 1-7 and more cells per blastocysts. Furthermore, work has shown an improvement in blastocyst quality and higher conception rates. Much of this work has been in vitro but the equivalent feeding rates would be very small, around 1.2 grams of absorbed EPA/DHA.

Supplementing diets with EPA/DHA have resulted in higher interferon tau levels, greater conceptus length and higher pregnancy rates compared to non-supplemented animals.  In addition, feeding EPA/DHA reduced the early embryonic mortality rate days 28 to 60 from 12 to 6% in one study and 3.2% in another.  The good news are the results are repeatable in the field. We are seeing several herds that we work with achieve comparable results when supplementing with EPA/DHA.

So can these losses simply be overcome by feeding more fat/energy or is it specific fatty acids playing a role? (Time: ~8:37)

EPA/DHA are biologically active fatty acids and are used for specific functions and are typically not used as an energy source.  At a feeding rate of 20-30 gram of EPA/DHA it takes 5-7 weeks for the level of EPA/DHA to ramp up to optimal levels in the plasma, follicular and uterine fluid.  EPA/DHA is generally stored in the phospholipid layer of the adipose cells.  Since EPA/DHA are involved in resolving inflammation is it beneficial to feed an essential amount every day.

How does Virtus Nutrition assist farms and nutritionists in improving reproductive performance through fatty acid nutrition? (Time: ~9:39)

At Virtus, we are 100% focused on fatty acid nutrition...collaborating with nutritionists and dairies to improve reproduction, health and profitability.   In the early 2000’s, we invented the process to deliver EPA/DHA in a form that dairy cows can utilize.  Since then, we’ve developed several product options that give customers flexibility in how to deliver these essential fatty acids to their cows. Products like EneG-3 and Strata, both contain EPA/DHA.

We understand the impact that lost pregnancies have on dairy farm profitability.  Whether it’s losing that pregnancy in the first and second pivotal period where it looks like conception did not happen, or in the third and fourth pivotal period where we count it as an abort.  These losses are costly…even more so today with the opportunity that beef on dairy provides.  We believe…based on a lot of great research and our own field experience…that providing adequate levels of EPA/DHA significantly improves pregnancy success.

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